Biography (SGYY): Chen Wu (Zilie)

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Chen Wu (Zilie)
陳武 (子烈)
Lifespan: Unlisted

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Sam Wrest

Chen Wu (Zilie)

Chen Wu, styled Zilie, hailed from Songzi in Lujiang. He was a man seven spans tall with a sallow complexion and reddish eyes.

When Sun Ce attacked Liu Yao of Yangzhou, Chen Wu, in coordination with Sun Ce’s commander Zhou Yu, attacked Qu’e, Liu Yao’s home base. The two succeeded in capturing the city, forcing Liu Yao to flee to Moling to request aid from Xue Li and Ze Rong. For his aid in the expedition, Chen Wu was shown into audience with Sun Ce who, despite Chen Wu’s somewhat peculiar appearance, admired him greatly and appointed him as Commandant. (1)

1: SGZ (Sanguozhi) records that Chen Wu was only 18 at the time he joined Sun Ce.

When Sun Ce began his attack on Xue Li, Chen Wu was put in the vanguard. Wu, accompanied by a mere dozen or so cavalry, charged directly into Xue Li’s ranks upon arriving at Moling and took more than fifty heads. Xue Li was so intimidated by his ferocity that he shut the gates of Moling and refused battle. The siege of Moling continued until word came that Liu Yao and Ze Rong had joined forces to attack Sun Ce’s army at Ox Landing. Sun Ce led the bulk of his force there and successfully defeated Liu Yao and Ze Rong, half of their soldiers surrendering and a further ten thousand being beheaded. After his victory, Sun Ce, with Chen Wu, turned back to Moling to resume the siege.

After returning to Moling, Sun Ce rode to the foot of the city wall to demand surrender, but he was shot in the left thigh. Ce fell from his horse and had to be carried back to camp, where he instructed his men to spread the rumour that he had died, hoping to lure Xue Li out. Chen Wu waited outside Sun Ce’s camp in preparation for Li’s attack and, true enough to Ce’s prediction, Xue Li attacked with generals Zhang Ying and Chen Heng that very day. Chen Wu and the rest of Sun Ce’s forces ambushed them immediately. Zhang Ying attempted to escape, but Wu bore down on him and speared him through; Xue Li and Chen Heng also died in the heat of battle. Moling was thereupon taken and the inhabitants calmed. Sun Ce next moved his army onto Jiangxian to capture Taishi Ci, an officer serving under Liu Yao.

Upon reaching Jiangxian, Chen Wu surmised that Taishi Ci’s men were mostly mountain folk who knew nothing of discipline, and that Jianxian wall was not especially high. That night Chen Wu, upon Sun Ce’s instructions, armed himself with a dagger and dressed himself in just a short jacket. He then began to climb the wall of Jianxian and, upon reaching the top, started a fire. After seeing the flames rising within Jianxian, Taishi Ci attempted to flee out of the east gate, but he was pursued by Sun Ce and captured some thirty li from the city. Taishi Ci surrendered to Ce and recruited one thousand of Liu Yao’s defeated troops; a further ten thousand troops were recruited by Sun Ce himself. Ce next led his army onto Wujun, governed by Yan Baihu—Chen Wu was one of the commanders selected to join him.

Chen Wu, with Jiang Qin, crossed the river in a small boat to support the attack on Yan Baihu. When he reached the bridge leading to the city, he found that Sun Ce’s commander Han Dang had already arrived with Ce’s land force but that Yan Yu, the brother of Yan Baihu, had also arrived to oppose Dang. Chen Wu therefore had his men spray the bank with arrows and took a heavy toll on Yan Yu’s men. Yu retreated before the onslaught and Han Dang, taking advantage of the opportunity provided by Chen Wu, advanced on the west gate, driving the enemy into the city; Yan Baihu refused to give battle for the following three days.

Yan Baihu began to see the futility in trying to resist so fierce an army and so attempted to sue for peace by sending his brother, Yu, to negotiate with Sun Ce. However, after Yu revealed that his brother wished for joint rule of the Southland, Ce personally killed him and had his head sent back into Wujun. Yan Baihu knew he would be unable to resist another attack from Sun Ce’s army and so fled the city. Ce additionally captured Jianxing, Wucheng and Kuaiji, and thus firmly established his kingdom, the kingdom of Wu, South of the River.

Following the death of Sun Ce (AD 200), Sun Quan, Ce’s younger brother, took on the responsibility of ruling the Southland and for years the south expanded and defended its borders, becoming one of the largest kingdoms in the whole of China. It was because of this that Cao Cao, prime minister of the Han, launched an invasion against Wu in AD 208-209. Noting the size of Cao’s fleet, the commander in charge of the south’s defence, Zhou Yu, surmised fire must be used to defeat the northern host. When Yu organised the fire attack on Cao Cao’s fleet, which was to take place at Red Cliffs, Huang Gai was put in charge of the fireboats while Chen Wu was one of four commanders ordered to cover Gai from the rear. (2) As Huang Gai set sail, Wu continued to cover him from behind, allowing Gai to successfully fire Cao Cao’s fleet; the southeast wind spread the flames to the remainder of Cao’s ships. (3) As Cao Cao’s army desperately tried to escape the fiery inferno, Chen Wu bore down on them from the east and killed many. The northern army was thus repelled—on Cao Cao’s side, those who fell to spear or arrow, burned to death or drowned, were beyond numbering.

2: The other three commanders were Han Dang, Zhou Tai and Jiang Qin.
3: Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei’s envoy to the south, had a Seven Star Altar constructed in order to supplicate the southeast wind, which would have been unlikely to occur in the dead of winter. However, there is no historical truth in this, and the southeast wind that blew the flames to the remainder of Cao Cao’s fleet was completely natural.

When Cao Cao again attempted to invade the southland in AD 213, Sun Quan personally met him at Ruxu; Chen Wu was one of the commanders selected to help repel the northern army a second time. As the two opposing lines formed, Sun Quan pointed his whip straight at Cao Cao and said, “The prime minister has full control of the northern heartland and has attained the height of his fortunes. What greed prompts him to invade the south?”

To this Cao Cao responded, “You are a vassal who shows no respect to the royal house. The Son of Heaven has mandated me to bring you to justice.”

With a laugh Sun Quan replied, “What an outrage! Who in the world does not know that you coerce the Son of Heaven to compel the obedience of the feudal lords? Far from not respecting the Han court, I am going to bring you to justice so that the dynasty may be set to rights.”

Enraged, Cao Cao shouted to his commanders to take the hill and capture Sun Quan, but before Cao’s generals could get anywhere close to Quan, Chen Wu charged out from the left of the hill, commanders Han Dang, Zhou Tai and Pan Zhang supporting him in the attack. The four generals had three thousand archers unleash a storm of arrows on Cao’s position, forcing Cao to beat a hasty retreat. Chen Wu chased after Cao Cao as he was trying to escape, but he was forced to pull back when Cao’s personal bodyguard, Xu Chu, blocked his way. Following this victory, Sun Quan penned a letter to Cao Cao who, upon reading the text, ordered a general retreat to the capital, Xuchang (4).

4: The letter sent to Cao Cao read:
Your Excellency and myself act equally in the service of the court. Yet Your Excellency, giving no thought to his debt to the dynasty or the welfare of the people, resorts unreasonably to arms, causing dreadful suffering to the common people. Is this conduct of a humane man? Now that the spring floods have erupted, you should depart quickly, lest you suffer another Red Cliffs. Kindly give this your consideration.
On the back of the document was another sentence: “I shall have no peace while you live.”

When Sun Quan organised an attack on Hefei in AD 215, Chen Wu was given the command of assisting Sun Quan in the central army. The southern force crossed the river and successfully captured Hezhou and Huan; the army’s next destination was Hefei itself, guarded by Zhang Liao. Chen Wu set out after the other southern commanders to join the battle at Hefei, but the army’s bulk was ambushed by generals Zhang Liao and Li Dian before Wu arrived—Sun Quan himself only barely escaped with his life. Following this defeat, Sun Quan regrouped his forces at the Ruxu naval base in preparation for a counterattack by land and sea.

Shortly after Sun Quan’s defeat at Hefei, Cao Cao shifted four hundred thousand men from Hanzhong to Hefei, and Chen Wu was ordered to keep the shore of Ruxu patrolled in the case of an attack. True enough, Cao Cao detailed five armies to strike Ruxu not long after, each army consisting of ten thousand men. Li Dian commanded one of these armies and Xu Sheng and Dong Xi, two southland commanders, launched a surprise attack on Dian’s camp as soon as he arrived. Chen Wu, hearing the cries of mayhem, brought his own troops up to aide his comrades. However, before Wu was able to reach Sheng and Xi’s location, he was confronted by the northern commander Pang De and a wild melee ensued. Chen Wu was cut off from support from the rest of the southern army and his forces were quickly starting to diminish against the much larger northern force. Wu continued to battle Pang De for some time, but when it became clear he was unable to stand against De’s forces, he attempted to flee into a gorge, Pang De pursuing him. Time and again Chen Wu tried to turn and fight De, but bushes snagged his sleeves and Pang De cut him down before he could defend himself. Sun Quan grieved bitterly over the loss of Chen Wu and, after recovering his body from the gorge, had him buried together with Dong Xi, who had also been killed in the battle. (5)

5: SGZ (Sanguozhi) records that Sun Quan had developed a close friendship with Chen Wu and had personally attended his funeral.

Copyright © 2004 Sam Wrest
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong